Dyspareunia is recurrent or persistent genital pain experienced just before, during, or after sexual intercourse. Although this condition can occur in both men and women, it is more common in women.
The cause is believed to be related to physical factors.
Some pain occurs during vaginal entry, but decreases over time. This is often caused by not having enough lubrication because of a lack of sexual arousal and stimulation. It can also be caused by dehydration, or as a side effect of some medications, such as antihistamines. Frequent douching can also cause problems.
Other causes in women include: Postpartum period after childbirth
Vaginal infections, such as
yeast vaginitisPostmenopausal atrophic vaginitis—irritation of the vaginal mucosa due to lack of estrogenEndometriosisHerpes
genital wartsPelvic inflammatory disease—serious infection of the female reproductive organs
Urinary tract infectionProblems affecting the pelvic bones
The cause of dyspareunia may also be related to psychological factors, although this is less common. Some examples include: Previous sexual trauma, such as rape or abuseFeelings of guiltNegative attitudes toward sex
These factors may lead to a condition called
vaginismus. This is painful and involuntary contractions of vaginal muscles. It is usually a response to past sexual trauma or other painful circumstances, but it can also be the result of chronic irritation from a physical cause.
The most common causes of pain in men are: Prostatitis—inflammation of the prostate
Urethritis—inflammation of the urethra
Pain occurs at the time of ejaculation.
Pain that occurs while obtaining an erection may be associated with: Inflammation of the foreskinLoss of elasticity of the foreskinTrauma to the penis
genital wartsLocal allergies or irritationsCurvature of the penis caused by Peyronie's disease
Factors that may increase your chance of dyspareunia include:
In women: Being postmenopausalTaking medications that produce a vaginal drynessPrior vaginal surgery
In men and women, viral or bacterial infections may also increase the chance of dyspareunia.
Pain associated with dyspareunia may: Occur during or after sexBe itching, burning, stabbing, or aching
Be located in the:
VaginaUrethraBladderPelvisPenisTesticlesOccur during all phases of sexual contactMay also occur with tampon use—fabric absorbs natural vaginal lubricant
Female Reproductive System
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The diagnosis is often made based on your symptoms. A medical and sexual history will be taken. A physical exam will be done.
Your vaginal wall will be checked for:
Signs of drynessInflammationInfectionGenital wartsScarring
An internal pelvic exam will be done to look for:
Abnormal pelvic massesTendernessSigns of endometriosis
For men and women: Your doctor may suggest more tests. They may include cultures to find infections. Imaging studies like an ultrasound may also be used.You may be referred to a counselor. This will help to determine whether psychological issues may be a cause.
Your doctor may recommend that you use water-soluble lubricants or creams that contain estrogen. Other medications may be prescribed, as well.Infections may be treated with antibiotics or antifungal medication.Inflammation and dermatitis may be treated with topical or injectable corticosteroids.Viral infections like herpes and genital warts will need to be treated.Endometriosis may be treated with medications. In some cases, surgery may be necessary.
To treat prostatitis and urethritis, the doctor may recommend: Antibiotic treatmentSitz baths—soaking the hip and buttocks area in warm waterAvoiding alcohol and caffeine, which may be helpful for prostatitis
Sometimes, surgery may be done to treat foreskin and other erectile problems.
When no physical cause of the pain can be found, sex therapy may be helpful. Some concerns need to be worked through in counseling. These may include: GuiltInner conflictUnresolved feelings about past abuseNeed for self-punishment
Wait at least 6 weeks before having sexual relations after childbirth. It may be necessary to use a lubricant because of hormonal changes causing vaginal dryness.Use proper hygiene and get routine medical care.
Practice safe sex to prevent
sexually transmitted diseases
Adequate foreplay and stimulation will help to ensure proper lubrication of the vagina.Use a water-soluble lubricant. Vaseline should not be used as a lubricant. It is not water-soluble, and it may encourage vaginal infections.
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Practice Bulletins—Gynecology. Female sexual dysfunction.
Obstet Gynecol. 2011;117(4):996-1007. Reaffirmed 2015.
Heim LJ. Evaluation and differential diagnosis of dyspareunia.
Am Fam Physician. 2001;63(8):1535-1544.
Jackson E, Smith MA. Dyspareunia. Essential Evidence Plus website. Available at: http://www.essentialevidenceplus.com. Accessed December 11, 2015.
Lightner DJ. Female sexual dysfunction.
Mayo Clin Proc.
Last reviewed December 2015 by Karli-Rae Kerrschneider, RN
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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